Monday, September 08, 2008

Immigrant Rights News - Monday, September 08, 2008

Immigrant Rights News – Monday, September 08, 2008


IRN and other NNIRR posts are available at


1. Washington Post: Bond Help Heartens Immigrants


2. Frontera NorteSur: “The Border Wall Chronicles”


3. Los Angeles Times: A darker state economy sends day laborers packing


4. Americas Policy Program Commentary: Democrats to Immigrants: "Get Right with the Law" and Republicans Echo Immigration Restrictionists


5. AlterNet: Is California on the Brink of Environmental Collapse?




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Washington Post


Bond Help Heartens Immigrants

Workplace Raids' Frequency Propels Fundraising Effort


By N.C. Aizenman

Washington Post Staff Writer

Sunday, September 7, 2008; A03

Boston financier Robert Hildreth has been contributing to immigrant service groups around his home state for nearly two decades. So when federal immigration agents raided a garment factory in New Bedford, Mass., last year and began transferring the workers to Texas detention centers thousands of miles from the community organizations trying to help them, Hildreth quickly stepped in with what he thought was a modest offer:

"I just told [their lawyers], 'You know, if you ever need bond money for someone, let me know,' " the 57-year-old multimillionaire recalled during an interview. "I was just following my nose on this. . . . I had no idea of the scale of what I was getting into."

Within a matter of weeks, Hildreth had posted bond for 40 detainees, contributing $116,800 of his own money and launching the pilot version of a national bond assistance program immigrant advocates hope will prove the linchpin of an emerging strategy to counter the recent increase in government workplace raids, including the arrest of nearly 600 workers at a manufacturing plant in Laurel, Miss., on Aug. 25.

Already, the National Immigrant Bond Fund has attracted more than $300,000 in contributions and helped bail out nearly 90 immigrants detained in six worksite raids, including 10 of the 46 workers detained during a raid on a painting company in Annapolis in June.

Days before the Mississippi raid, at the first sign that immigration agents appeared to be massing there, representatives of the fund were on the phone to immigrant advocates in the state. The fund stands ready with at least $150,000 for bond hearings and is trying to raise more.

"This is exactly what we hoped the fund would do," said Paromita Shah, associate director of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild and a member of the bond fund's steering committee. "I don't see this as bringing about the end of these raids, but I'm optimistic that the fund is going to make a difference for a lot of people."

Although workplace arrests bring in only a fraction of the nation's estimated 8 million illegal immigrant workers, they have risen sharply in recent months, growing from 510 in 2002 to nearly 5,000 a year.

Unlike defendants in the criminal justice system, foreigners facing deportation in immigration court do not have a right to a government-provided attorney if they cannot pay for their own. And when they are moved to remote holding facilities far from their families, it is more difficult for them to find attorneys, advocates contend. Without access to legal advice, immigrants often have a tough time determining if they have a viable defense against deportation, let alone collecting the evidence needed to present their case. So many simply agree to deportation.

The bond fund aims to change that pattern by offering to pay up to half of an immigrant's bond, increasing the number who can afford bail while insuring the immigrant has a financial incentive to show up in court. Those awaiting a deportation hearing are generally eligible for release on bond if they have no criminal convictions, were not previously ordered deported and can convince a homeland security official or an immigration judge that they pose no danger to national security or the community and are not a flight risk, which they often demonstrate by providing evidence of long-standing community ties through their children, spouses and other relatives.

Raising enough cash to keep up with the spike in workplace raids could be challenging, advocates say.

"The decision to grant bond and the amount of the bond that is set seems to follow a wildly arbitrary process that totally differs from one judge to another," said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum and another member of the bond fund committee. "I've seen everything from $2,000 to $24,000 bonds for essentially the same circumstances."

Three Guatemalan brothers who were arrested in June's raid on the Annapolis painting company, for instance, received substantially different bond amounts even though they shared the same family ties and living arrangements. Sergio Gonzalez, 32, the first to go before an immigration judge, was granted a $6,500 bond. When his brothers Hugo Gonzalez, 27, and Juan Carlos Gonzalez, 41, went before a different judge about a week later, their bonds were set at $3,500 each.

All three said they send most of their earnings back to family in Guatemala and did not have enough savings to cover their bonds. Their brother Obdulio Gonzalez, who is a legal permanent resident and has lived in the United States for 10 years, was able to come up with the $6,500 needed to bail out Sergio and $3,500 toward the other two. But he said he probably would have had to leave one of the brothers in detention if the bond fund had not covered the remaining $3,500.

As it was, Obdulio, 37, who is self-employed as a house painter and has a wife and U.S.-born daughter, used up his entire rainy-day fund, which he saves over the summer to cover his mortgage and other bills during the winter season, when jobs are scarce.

"Honestly, I don't know how I'm going to survive this December," Obdulio said during an interview at the kitchen table of his ranch house in an Annapolis suburb on a recent evening. "I'm just asking God for more clients to give me more work, and I'm lowering my prices to get as many jobs as I can."

Sergio and Hugo, who share Obdulio's burly build and reserved demeanor, listened with a mixture of guilt and gratitude. If they hadn't been able to bond out, Hugo said, they would almost certainly have agreed to deportation rather than trying to contest their case from detention.

"It's hard to explain how terrible it felt to be locked up in that tiny, hot room, with just a bed and a metal toilet," he said. "You lose all hope. You just feel despair."

It remains to be seen whether the bond fund will ultimately help such immigrants gain anything beyond a few extra months to get their affairs in order before they are ordered deported. Several of the Guatemalans picked up in New Bedford have requested asylum based on dangers they faced as members of persecuted indigenous groups back home. Others are seeking relief from deportation on the grounds that it would cause extreme hardship to their U.S.-born children. Attorneys also pointed to a number of other potential lines of defense, including negotiating a temporary stay of deportation in exchange for testimony against a former employer or, in the case of immigrants who initially entered legally and have a U.S. citizen relative eligible to sponsor them, persuading a judge to let them apply for residency.

Still, the number of people likely to qualify for each type of relief is probably low, said Mark Krikorian, of the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that favors limits on immigration. And he said this suggests that the true goal of the bond fund is to "lawyer up illegal immigrants" and "obstruct enforcement of immigration law until Congress passes an amnesty."

"If the anti-enforcement folks are successful in tying up enough of these hearings, then it will become impossible to do enforcement," he said.


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Frontera NorteSur

September 5, 2008


FNS Feature


The Border Wall Chronicles


By the third day of the Labor Day weekend march against the Department of Homeland Security’s border wall, protestors’ feet were feeling the long miles from Fort Hancock, Texas, to San Elizario, a semi-rural community south of El Paso. Resuming the march after a rest, Javier Perez, a staff member of El Paso’s Border Agricultural Workers Center, gave his take on action so far.


“Nobody said that the walk for justice was going to be a nice one,” Perez said, “so we’ ll keep on walking until we meet our objective, which is to destroy the wall before it is built.


An urgent tone energized the slogans, chants and songs that Perez and other marchers voiced. As the march was unfolding, crews were busy at work along the Border Highway up the road in El Paso constructing the local portion of the nearly 700-mile long wall.  Unknown to protest participants, US District Judge Frank Montalvo, in an August 29  decision rendered only hours before workers emptied the El Paso federal court house for the upcoming holiday, had denied the County of El Paso and other plaintiffs a preliminary injunction against the fence’s construction until certain conditions were met.


In his ruling, Judge Montalvo concluded that the plaintiffs failed to prove their case that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff’s waiver of more than 30 federal environmental and other laws last April “outweighs the public’s interest in securing its borders.”


Anti- border wall protestors on the August 28-31 march were adamant against building a new wall anywhere on the border. They cited human rights, environmental, economic and other reasons for opposing the project. Many opponents contend the barrier will force desperate migrants from Mexico and Latin America into more deadly, remote crossings and increase the number of deaths on the border, which have reached into the thousands since the US government began clamping down on the border 15 years ago.


Although opposition to the wall is widespread in the borderlands, the federal project counts its share of local supporters. On September 1, an unscientific, online poll conducted by the El Paso Times showed 2400 respondents evenly split on the question of whether the city’s Public Service Board should have leased land for the wall. Proponents of a new fence argue it is necessary to control illegal immigration, curb drug trafficking and other crimes and deter terrorists.


Taking a Stand in San Elizario


Parading through the outskirts of semi-rural San Elizario, the group of about thirty marchers passed single-family homes, trailers and yards with farm animals. Border Patrol vehicles darted in and out of side streets.


Halting at an irrigation canal almost on the US-Mexico border, the march paused to hear speakers. A portable Border Patrol observation tower equipped with a camera that one woman compared to a “deer (hunting) stand” faced the impromptu protest.


Eustolia Olivas introduced herself as a relative and neighbor of former Mexican guestworkers known as braceros. An activist with the Bracero Project, an El Paso-based organization seeking justice for the elderly former contract laborers and their families,  Olivas chronicled the role of Mexican and Chicano workers in building up the United States since 1848.  US racists, Olivas contended, view brown people as stoop laborers made for the work others will not do.


“We’re trying to gain recognition as human beings from them,” Olivas said. “We came to work. We didn’t come to set off explosions in buildings or on bridges. We’re not that kind of people..”


Several residents, including a group of men on horseback marchers invited to join them, spontaneously approached and applauded the demonstration on the canal bank. Later, as the group marched into the center of San Elizario to the welcoming beat of Aztec drummers and dancers, the men on horseback were now the rear guard of the march, carrying anti-border wall signs.


San Elizario was perhaps an appropriate place for a protest that embraces questions of land, freedom of movement and differing cultural visions. A local museum exhibits how the fertile lands that still sprout cotton here and there have been contested territory for hundreds of years in battles involving Spaniards, Apaches, Mexicans and Anglo-Americans. San Elizario was the scene of the famous 1877 Salt War, a conflict which erupted over attempts by Anglo businessman Charles Howard to gain control of salt lakes Spanish-speaking locals long considered communal property.


Today, San Elizario is still contested space.


Hands Through the Fence


From San Elizario, the march halted in Socorro, Texas, for the evening.


Picking up the protest pace the next day, the group stopped in Ysleta del Sur Pueblo for a ceremony before jumping into cars and trucks that headed to the border wall construction underway in El Paso.


The final act was a binational rally at the border between Sunland Park, New Mexico, and Anapra, Mexico, on the northwestern edge of Ciudad Juarez.


More than 100 people turned out, including Anapra residents who remembered once freely moving back and forth across the border. At this spot, the Roman Catholic bishops of Ciudad Juarez, El Paso and Las Cruces conduct an annual mass in celebration of a binational, tri-state region that shares a common history, language, economy and culture.


Nowadays, a metal fence constructed during the Clinton era separates Sunland Park from Anapra, forcing march organizers to stay on either side of the divide. Participants, however, reached out to each other across the fence and US marchers tossed gifts to children and adults in low-income Anapra. The creep of the new, bigger wall was visible on the mesa above the community.


Standing in Mexico, Father Peter Hinde, who is a US military veteran, was audibly distraught by the new wall, which sits under the gaze of the Christ statue on nearby Mount Cristo Rey.


“Now we have the scandal of the fence right up underneath that symbol of unity on top of the mountain,” Father Hinde sighed. “I don’t know when we’re going to learn that our best security is creating friendship instead of creating insecurity through antagonism that is created by a fence.”


In an interview with Frontera Norte Sur, Texas state Senator Eliot Shapleigh, a leading border wall critic, praised the march. Upholding his heritage as a 5th generation El Pasoan, Senator Shapleigh called the local people “borderlanders” who enjoy ties up and down the old  Camino Real Highway.  Besides a monumental waste of taxpayer money, the new border wall was an affront to a close neighbor and trading partner, he added.


“This era will be viewed as a dark passage in American history, and I hope we have the leaders at the national, state and local level that will stand up and fix this in generations to come,” Senator Shapleigh said. “We need to take this wall down. We need to do the right thing by our relationship with Mexico.”


In March 2008, Senator Shapleigh sent a letter to Homeland Secretary Michael Chertoff. Citing a US Congressional Research Service estimate of a $49 billion price tag for building and maintaining the wall, the El Paso Democrat insisted much cheaper means, including smart technology, are available to control the border.


In his letter, Senator Shapleigh wrote that “history has shown that anti-immigration sentiment almost always follows a threat to national security.” Nonetheless, he continued, “despite the fact that none of the 9/11 terrorists have arrived in the United States through Mexico, the focus over the past several years has been on our southwestern border.”


Referring to criticism of the project from world figures such as former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, Senator Shapleigh warned Secretary Chertoff of the diplomatic consequences of the border wall.


“Already in churches and homes from Chihuahua to Buenos Aires, your walls are called ‘muros de odio, symbols of a new hatred for which America is now known,” he wrote. “How long will it take for our great nation to repair the ill will that these walls have engendered around the world?”


The Border Wall Heats Up Cyberspace


Reported in the regional media, news of the march and the border wall set off renewed polemics in cyberspace over questions of national security, immigration and race. In particular, the El Paso Times was the repository of many sharp comments.


An e-mail from a person identified as “Mother” from El Paso laid out a case for the wall:


“If this fence would have been put up a long time ago, my son would still be alive,” read the message. “He was killed by a drug trafficker trying to get back to Mexico in his Hummer.”


Many e-mails were from out-of-state. Read one message: “The fence is needed. Illegal immigrants stress so much of our society, from the free education they receive, the free lunches, free health care, the list goes on. Build the fence higher.”


Another cyber writer suggested that the new wall should be electrified with observation towers protected by numerous guards armed with “REAL not rubber bullets.”


More than a few messages carried racial overtones, featuring insults like “nasty Mexicans.”


Although work proceeds to finish the border wall before the end of the year, debate is certain to intensify in the days ahead. El Paso-area opponents, as well as their allies in other sections of the border, plan more actions in a last-ditch effort to stop the wall before it is finished.


-Kent Paterson

Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico


For a free electronic subscription email



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Los Angeles Times,0,1493701.story


A darker state economy sends day laborers packing

With more competing for fewer jobs, some immigrant workers are returning home.


By Anna Gorman

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

September 1, 2008

For more than two years, Otoniel Lopez Cortez arrived at the Westlake day labor center before 6:30 a.m. to wait for jobs painting houses. Some weeks he earned a few hundred dollars, enough to pay his rent and bills and send money home to Guatemala.

But after four months with only one day of work, Lopez made the decision last month to return to his native country.

"I don't want to go back, but there is no work," said Lopez, 18. "It's better to be with my family, even though we don't have much."

With the ongoing economic downturn and the collapse of the construction industry, day laborers in California are feeling the effects. Now, some immigrant workers are choosing to go home rather than wait for a rebound.

California's unemployment rate hit 7.3% last month, compared with 5.4% the previous July. The number of construction jobs dropped by 84,000 over the previous year, according to the state Employment Development Department.

Many unemployed construction workers, including citizens and legal residents, have turned to hiring halls for work, creating more competition for daily jobs, said Abel Valenzuela, a UCLA professor who has researched day laborers across the nation. There are also fewer jobs available for dayworkers, as Californians have less disposable income for moving, remodeling, painting and landscaping.

In fact, Valenzuela said, anecdotal evidence shows that only about 10% to 15% of workers get hired daily, down from about 40% a few years ago.

On Lopez's last day, 58 workers showed up at the Westlake day laborer center, near Home Depot in the Pico-Union neighborhood. Only 11 got jobs. By noon, dozens of men were still waiting, passing the time by playing dominoes, watching television and practicing English with a teacher.

"Things are really drying up," prompting dayworkers to start thinking about alternatives, Valenzuela said. "One of them is, clearly, to leave the United States and head back."

The economy, along with increased border enforcement, may also be discouraging some migrants from coming to the United States. Apprehensions at the Southern border this year are 17% below last year's, according to the U.S. Border Patrol.

Lopez said he sneaked across the border in 2006 for the same reason as most illegal immigrants: to make a better life for himself and to earn money for his family. He also wanted to get away from the gang life that had consumed much of his youth. He came to Los Angeles, where he started attending church, studying English and making friends with other immigrant workers at the day labor center.

After deciding to leave, he sought help at the Guatemalan Consulate, which gave him a bus ticket home. He cleaned out the room he had rented for $250 and packed his clothes, Bible, English notebooks and soccer trophy. He called his mother, who had been sick and wanted him to return.

On Aug. 22, the hiring hall, run by the Central American Resource Center, held a farewell lunch of ceviche, rice and cake for Lopez. The other workers applauded for Lopez as director Jeronimo Salguero hugged him and presented him with a certificate honoring his work and time at the center.

Salguero said Lopez's departure was sad but not surprising. Given the choice between suffering in your own country or in another, he said, you might as well eat beans and be with your family.

Last Sunday, Lopez boarded a bus bound for Guatemala. He would arrive in four days.

The decision to leave is not an easy one. Most undocumented immigrants pay thousands of dollars and risk dangerous journeys to get to the U.S.

Another worker at the center, Jose Morales, 38, said he also wanted to return to Guatemala but had to first pay his $5,000 smuggling debt. Before sneaking across the border last year, Morales said, he'd heard stories about plentiful work in the United States.

"Now I am seeing with my own eyes that here is the same as my country," he said.

Manuel Barajas, 44, a dayworker who has worked just a few days in five months and lives with his sister, said he wouldn't have left his electrician job in Mexico and come in January had he known of the economic situation in California.

"It's been a bad year," Barajas said.

His pregnant wife and their year-old child are still in Mexico. Barajas said he would like to be home by the time their second baby is born next month.

Wayne Cornelius, director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at UC San Diego, said his research shows that migrants who have been here for more than one year and had close relatives living with them "intended to ride out the recession." But he said single men are a different story.

"For unattached males with no economic base in the U.S. and no prospects for stable employment, it may make sense to go home and try their luck again when the U.S. economy improves," Cornelius said.

Many of those who stay in the U.S. are moving from one day labor center to another in search of work. Immigrant workers are also sending less money home. The Mexican central bank reported last month that remittances from other countries, primarily the U.S., had declined nearly 2.2% the first six months of 2008.

The decrease in jobs and increase in workers have caused desperation among some day laborers, but returning home won't solve their financial problems, said Pablo Alvarado, head of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.

"Even if you work once a week for a full day, that's $60 if you get the minimum wage," he said. "That is way above what you make sometimes in a month in your homeland."

Rick Oltman of Californians for Population Stabilization said the fact that some immigrants were returning home as a result of the declining economy showed that a lack of jobs could be a deterrent.

"Until they cut off the employment magnet, they are not serious about enforcement," Oltman said. "The economy is giving us an example of how it would work."



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Americas Policy Program Commentary


Democrats to Immigrants: "Get Right with the Law"




Republicans Echo Immigration Restrictionists


[Both by] Tom Barry | September 5, 2008

Americas Policy Program, Center for International Policy (CIP)


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Is California on the Brink of Environmental Collapse?


By Rachel Olivieri, AlterNet

Posted on September 4, 2008, Printed on September 8, 2008


There is no landmass on Earth quite like California. Here one finds the world's most ancient trees, bristlecone pines, more than 4,700 years old, in the White Mountains; the tallest and largest trees, the coast redwood and giant sequoia, respectively; the highest point in the lower 48 states, Mount Whitney; the lowest and hottest place in the Western Hemisphere, Death Valley; the largest western hemisphere estuary, the Bay Delta; an 800-mile coastline; the most irrigated acres; the most endangered species in the U.S.; the most diverse geology and biodiversity in the U.S.; and the greatest, most ecologically destructive water projects on Earth.

California has spared no expense to either taxpayers or natural ecosystems to attain its status as the most hydrologically altered landmass on the planet. It would surprise few that California was built on gold, greed, extraction, depletion, extinction, dubiously acquired large-landed semi-desert agricultural empires, well-gifted railroad land grants fueling speculative growth, and highly subsidized stolen water -- all comprising a tunnel vision for overextended populations and infinite growth in a world utterly finite.

The incomprehensible vulnerability of California's over-reaching population centers (Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose), the projected urban expansion of the Central Valley, and the weight of climate-warming models leaves one haunted by civilization's lack of respect for a river's entitlement to its water and the food systems that it naturally perpetuates.

There's only so much natural wealth covering the 158,302 square miles of California's ten hydrologic regions. When a region overextends its local resources, it must take from another. More than water is diverted; it drains the very wealth of the food chains these waters support in aquatic, terrestrial, and ocean basins.  

With 200 million acre-feet (MAF) of average precipitation spreading over 100 million acres containing 450 known groundwater basins and draining on average 71 MAF of runoff through 20,000 miles of rivers and streams, California has only 1,900 river miles legally protected from dams and diversions. All but one major river remains dam-free, the Smith River on the upper north coast.

About 42 MAF of the state's runoff is captured and diverted through six major systems of reservoirs and aqueducts. This massive infrastructure artificially waters the coastal region from the North Bay to San Diego, and the Sacramento Valley through the San Joaquin Valley into the Tulare Basin, the Mojave Desert, and the southernmost Imperial and Coachella valleys.

Before the Spanish arrived in 1769, there were only twelve large natural lakes in California -- Lake Tahoe, Lower Klamath, Goose, Tule, Honey, Eagle, Clear, Mono, Owens, Kern, Buena Vista, and Tulare Lake. Today the latter four are devoid of aboriginal wildlife and have been dewatered for agriculture. Tulare Lake, a once-thriving ecosystem in the lower San Joaquin Valley, was four times the area of Lake Tahoe. Today, 1,200 non-federal dams and 181 large federal dams with their reservoirs temporarily dominate a contrived oasis that is doomed by sediment, evaporation, the force of time, the laws of nature, and global warming.

These numerous artificial lakes defy the balance between natural surface water stores and underground stores. In nature, 70 percent of the fresh water circulating in the hydrologic cycle is stored underground and a combined total of .017 percent for lakes, rivers, and land-locked seas. Underground storage is free from evaporation, siltation, and storage cost (both economically and environmentally).

Before European contact, underground glacial water stores were estimated at 1.3 billion acre-feet -- the entire California landmass under thirteen feet of water. This now has been overdrafted to 850 MAF. Like oil, the remaining supply will be extinguished in less than a hundred years. One out of four Californians rely totally on groundwater, and nearly three-quarters of a billion acre-feet of that groundwater once lay under the Central Valley. Continual overdrafts in the region have caused the landmass to subside as much as thirty feet, yet the aquifer remains a major water source for agricultural production.

Five million acres of Central Valley wetlands -- nature's food bank, filtration system, and flood control mechanism -- once brimmed with life including half a million Tule elk and sixty million ducks and geese. Reclaimed for agriculture, this area has been reduced to 350,000 artificially managed wetland acres. Nine out of every ten acres of riparian woodlands are gone, along with ten thousand grizzly bears that once roamed the valleys and foothills. The loss of mega and micro flora and fauna is beyond counting.

Ninety percent of the coastal salt marshes between Morro Bay and San Diego are gone. The 200,000 acres of vibrant salt marshes that once surrounded the San Francisco Bay have been reduced to 35,000 acres by landfill for urban development. The Bay Delta, the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, drains 40 percent of the state's total runoff. It is the main pumping station for the massive State Water Project and the Central Valley Project. It serves two-thirds of California's population and irrigates millions of San Joaquin and Tulare Basin acres. Eighty percent of all developed water is consumed by agriculture.

The Delta is not on the verge of collapse, it is collapsing. Once supporting 345,000 acres of salt marshes and a major fishery for salmon and smelt, it has been reduced to 8,000 marsh acres, with Delta pumps decimating the fisheries. With valuable marshes reclaimed as islands below sea level, they are protected by a series of poorly maintained and aging levee systems vulnerable to earthquakes, storms, and climate change.  

Historic flows from the Delta to the Bay have been reduced by half, increasing saltwater intrusion into the freshwater system. (Normally freshwater flows from the Sierra snowpack create a hydraulic barrier holding back intruding salt water.) California's unceasing march towards 50 million people by 2015 will increase demands and destabilization. A one-meter rise in sea level will inundate about 200 square miles of Delta land. Long-term climate patterns anticipate a sea level rise of six meters. Loss of the Delta will have a catastrophic effect on southern populations and agriculture. Today's water consciousness, especially in the Bay Delta, is motivated less by the loss of fisheries and ecosystems and more by the loss of water supply and its curbing impact on agriculture, growth, and development.

Salmon are the keystone species, the proverbial canary in the coal mine. Untold millions, perhaps ten-plus million salmon, once migrated between Monterey Bay and the Oregon coast through 582 coastal streams -- while steelhead migrated along most of California's 800-mile coastline. During the winter of 1883-84, more than 700,000 salmon were caught and processed in the Bay Delta alone. By the early 1900s, cannery operations had become commercially unviable. Perhaps 80 percent of that protein source has been depleted now, with only 10 percent of the suitable spawning sites remaining.

Think about what the salmon represent in total natural energy distribution and conversion -- as an energy component, their nourishing value to the sea, the land, the aquatic and terrestrial food chains, and human life. 

Once 400 million strong throughout North America, beavers once populated all the tributaries of California's great rivers. Building temporary small dams from nearby willows, alder, poplar, birch, maple and aspen, they trapped nutrients from twigs, leaves, branches, and logs, which mixed with silt behind the dam, creating a clear, cool, deep-water fishery. Bacteria break down the cellulose, which feeds protozoa, which feeds cyclops, daphnia, fresh-water shrimp, mosquitoes, dragonflies, caddis worms, tadpoles, and water spiders. These in turn feed young trout, salmon, and frogs, which feed egrets, ospreys, golden and bald eagles, kingfishers, turkeys and owls.

Downed trees fill with insects and feed woodpeckers and sapsuckers. The increased wet area around the beaver pond absorbs flood waves and slowly infiltrates water into the groundwater table. When the building materials deplete, the beavers move on to another location. The dam, filled high with rich, black organic muck, breaks down, causing the water to change course and meander around. As the area dries it becomes a rich pasture of grasses, feeding herbivores which feed predators. The meadow, recolonized by the seeds of the trees that initiated the process, begins anew. Multiply this lifecycle by 13,000 years and you have the continual development of fertile valley bottomlands and a regenerative model for human developments.

Without considering global warming, a century from now all man-made reservoirs that are not full of silt will nonetheless have lost their operational capacities to support agriculture, prevent floods, and serve human population centers. The moment they were filled, the concrete's limited lifespan began its 50- to 100-year process of degeneration. Where's the future?

This narrative represents a very short list of human events upon the landscape. The visible consequence of California's altered watersheds and landscapes translate into today's deepening water scarcity. The beaver negotiated its survival within nature, paid for the space it occupies by creating a pool of regenerative life, borrowing energy and converting it to produce a sum of energy far greater than it borrowed from nature -- this is the model of regeneration.

In stark contrast, civilization consumes nature, converting its energy in a way that exhausts its supply, and then we return the waste with a toxic aspect that further devalues the natural systems -- leading to air, soil, and water pollution, depleted fisheries, constipated rivers, ocean dead zones, deforestation, erosion, salinated valleys, overgrazing, wildlife extinction, toxic dumps, nuclear waste, and yes, global warming.

One can readily see that California as well as the planet is exhaustible. Our unique faculties allow us to shape and modify the land that provides for our survival. That faculty, that capacity, that survivability, comes at a great price, a great responsibility. That price is regenerative stewardship over the land.

The Waters of Change

As a consequence of natural evolution, the Earth's surface has adapted to the sun's radiant heat through a renewable hydrologic cycle. How a warming climate relates to the hydrologic cycle is the subject of the following discussion.

There is a high degree of scientific agreement that our planetary energy use relates directly to climbing temperatures. Current climate models are constantly readapting to temperature changes that are occurring much more rapidly than expected due to the climate feedback systems and non-linear movements. The climate system is the hydrologic cycle, and to the extent that model changes, so change rainfall and snow patterns across the state.

Today cold, moisture-laden westerly storms roll off the Pacific Basin from the Gulf of Alaska and the Hawaiian Islands primarily between December and April. They lift over the low-rising Coast Ranges, releasing a taste of their precious load before falling into the arid rain shadow of the 450-mile-long Central Valley. Having warmed during its descent across the lower valley floor, the stingy jet stream yields little moisture to today's artificially contrived breadbasket of California.

The storms' real contender is the west-tilting, 400-mile granite spine of the Sierra Nevada. Representing one fifth of California's landmass, much of the range exceeds 8,000 feet in elevation. Mount Whitney reigns supreme at 14,494 feet. As the air rises, cools, and condenses, the contest between landmass and planetary water cycle is resolved. Moisture molecules transform and surrender as snow.

On the eastern or rain-shadow side of the Sierra is a long narrow trench known as the Great Basin. Any moisture that escapes the wringing of the western Sierra then faces the western front of the 14,000-foot White/Inyo Mountain range, which creates the watersheds of now dewatered Owens Lake and endangered Mono Lake.

Seventy-five percent of California's precipitation falls north of Sacramento. The critical Sierra snowpack provides roughly 60 pecent of California's water demands and represents the state's Achilles heel (along with the Bay Delta) in the wake of a warming planet. The Sierra range contains 24 major watersheds and the headwaters of California's American, Stanislaus, San Joaquin, Upper Sacramento, Feather, Merced, Tuolumne, Mokelumne, Cosumnes, Calaveras, Kings, Kaweah, Tule, Kern, Caliente, and Yuba rivers. All these major rivers are constipated by numerous dams and their diversions. 

This 20th-century hydrologic model laid the foundation for the infrastructure of 1,400 dams and reservoir systems providing water storage and flood protection for California. The 21st century will provide an altogether different climate model, and water management policies and structures will have to change dramatically if the state's population is to survive that challenge.

The greatest challenge for water managers in today's weather system is timing the flows from the Sierra snowmelt. A dicey business without climate change considerations, we're talking about 15 million acre-feet (MAF) of runoff before it hits the first series of dams, and 20 or more MAF at or near the confluence of the Delta. The 20th-century model could anticipate gradual runoff in late spring and early summer to meet the greatest demand between summer and fall. These reservoirs have to be relatively empty in the winter for flood protection. Managers have to decide when to fill the reservoir to meet the greater demands of the dry season. Fill them too early and you risk floods; fill them too late and you risk insufficient supplies and drought conditions.

Climate models show the Sierra snowline climbing upward. As the landmass heats, it requires a greater volume of water to resolve the heat, and a warmer atmosphere holds more moisture, producing more intense rainfall and resulting in less snow, earlier and greater mass movements of flows, and erosion. Snowfall that would normally inundate the Sierra throughout the winter and gradually melt between late spring and early summer will come as intense wet storms, generating massive flows and torrential flooding throughout the lower watersheds. This will alter rivers, creeks, and stream channel profiles significantly and cripple the Bay Delta as a freshwater supply for the southland as water is lost to massive runoff and not stored and released slowly as snow.

Incidence of landslides will greatly increase the sediment budget, and some landslides will create slidedams and cause a river or creek to change course, incising fresh sediment loads from alluvial plains. The large recipient of these massive, sediment-laden flows will be the mega-million acre-feet reservoirs of the State Water and Central Valley projects. Inundating the already limited-lifespan reservoirs, the increased sediment budget will reduce their functionality.

These large events will also decrease the ability of the land to slow and infiltrate water into the groundwater system, and the higher temperatures will increase evaporation. Droughts and higher temperatures will increase the incidence of forest and grassland fires. Reduced reservoir water storage will increase groundwater pumping and land subsidence in the already overdrafted, oversubsided Central Valley.

The Eel River runs through some of the most erodable landmass in California, a situation exacerbated by massive lumber operations, gravel extraction, cattle ranching, and narrow-vision land management strategies. The Eel River owns the record for the highest peak flood discharge of 753,000 cubic feet per second during the 1964 flood, enough energy to send a fleet of battleships to Japan. With Scott Dam and Cape Horn Dam choking its headwaters and depleting its fisheries, nearly 90 percent of Eel's summer flow is diverted into the Russian River, altering that river's natural profile and enabling unsustainable human developments in population centers and the wine industry to the south. 

Outlet Creek, a Willits tributary of the Eel, has six dams with the seventh being built, all within a sixty-square-mile area. The ecology of Little Lake Valley and the former Little Lake, food basin for juvenile salmon, has been destroyed by straightening and channeling the six feeder creeks. With Snow, Hull, and Rice mountains forming the main headwaters, climate change will impact this region's snowpack and flow dynamics, as well as the larger Sierra range.

All of California's rivers, like the dams that drain the natural wealth from these regions, are ill-prepared for the upcoming changes in climate dynamics. Natural river systems are among the most efficient systems on the planet. The great sculptress shapes and transports with exacting tools of erosion and deposit. Water is the great conveyor between landmass and ocean -- eroding and depositing material pushed up from the constant collision of tectonic plates. Dams incarcerate the river's main element, water, leaving her artistry a slave to human infrastructural bondage and rendering all dependent life forms immensely vulnerable to even slight changes.  

Where do we go from here?

California's water infrastructure is overdeveloped, overused, oversold, under-maintained, and impermanent. California's 1,400 dams share a common destiny -- silt-up and become a dysfunction waterfall. One would think the profundity of this incontrovertible geophysical fact might dissuade one from building or continuing to build dense population centers supported by impermanence and develop marginal agricultural lands to feed these ultimately doomed arid population centers. Civilization has deferred this reality from one generation to the next. Not in my lifetime eventually claims the living -- were so dammed close.  

California's water infrastructure is aging and degenerating. The older it gets, the more problems it has. The massively altered watersheds, accumulating the burdens of dams and diversions, have lost the stability of equilibrium. This impetus drives the collision between the environment, economy, and a population that continues to increase 600,000 per year.  

The recent federal court decision to reduce water withdrawals from the irreplaceable Delta by 37 percent in an attempt to save its failing hydrology and fisheries has staggered farm production, cities, and the Silicon Valley. As well, less agricultural water sends a shockwave through soaring food prices and produces major losses in farm labor that is severely impacting an already deficit-ridden state budget; health care, education and transportation.  

Governor Schwarzenegger's proposed 9 billion dollar Delta bailout (1982 Peripheral Canal revival) seeks to pour vast energy into the sprawl of canals, aqueducts, levees, pipesheds, and off-stream reservoirs. Cloaked as a restoration project, should the central delta be bypassed diverting the Sacramento directly to canals and off-stream storage reservoirs, the central valley and southland water boosters will be well positioned for an ultimate water grab to fuel economic determinism and contrived population growth projections down to the last drop.   

The big question remains. Will a canal bypass save the Delta? Answer: No. As mentioned earlier, what the Delta needs most is increased mountain runoff water to create the hydrologic barrier to hold back saltwater intrusion from the Bay and the fisheries need inundated wetlands and sloughs.  

The Peripheral Canal simply adds an ever increasing layer of complexity and energy flows to a system that cannot be saved by the same strategies that produced the problem in the first place. California history can be understood from the earliest need to transport water from a distant watershed to an overextended watershed (1913 LA Aqueduct). Each solution along that predictable path requires still more complexity and energy inputs. Yesterday's solution becomes today's problem like a mad layer cake. Each new solution bears exponential energy costs often greater than all the energy consumed by all previous water projects. And, the emergent spectre of the unintended consequence, watershed and infrastructure degeneration leaves one pondering this question: Is this advancing towards a higher or better state?  

California's water, population, and economy are up against Stephen J. Gould's right wall of limitations. The insane complexity, economic and ecological, is beyond comprehension and the exponential energy cost to run the infrastructure alone denies a positive return -- a dead end.  

Since our economic system cannot consider limitations because our American way of life is non-negotiable, narrow-visioned, economic growth focused policy makers will commit our remaining economic might and push this unsustainable model against the right wall of limitations unwittingly. In this context, it is difficult to envision a divergent path that recognizes the need to reduce population, consumption, and charts a path towards watershed restoration statewide. Californians will, as they have throughout California's water history, approve any measure for one simple reason, fear.  

The final analysis strongly suggests that the geophysical forces of climate change dynamics, watershed-wide ecological degradation, oversold and over-mined watersheds, overextended economy and overpopulation coupled with the limited lifespan of 1,400 dams will likely, eventually, resolve the issue of overextended coastal populations and ill-conceived floodplain developments once and for all.  

The real solution, backing off the right wall, reducing and relocating vulnerable population centers, reducing consumer demand, developing local water sustainability, and restoring watersheds is simply unthinkable -- and the unthinkable is the only solution - and real solutions are not found when one cannot even define the problem.

Rachel Olivieri is an independent researcher and writer from Willits, California.

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